Various Artists

The Great Bluesmen at Newport '59

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The Great Bluesmen at Newport '59 Review

by Bruce Eder

This two-LP, single-CD compilation offers up 21 songs recorded live between 1959 and 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival. This is a killer selection of cuts by rediscovered '30s blues legends, many rising to the occasion to perform in front of thousands of people at once. A lot of comebacks and late-in-life careers were sparked by the performances captured on this CD, which is essential listening for anyone who cares about the blues.

Robert Pete Williams, playing his first concert outside Louisiana gave a performance so powerful, energetic, and dexterous, that he built a new career while still a relatively young man at the age of 40. Everyone who has heard Son House's album on Columbia and wondered if they were missing something might better look to the performance on this CD. With Mance Lipscomb accompanying him, the legendary slide player provides a good look at what his playing and singing were like in his prime. Mississippi John Hurt, who made some great records during this era, was at his best working in front of an audience, and had done so in Mississippi for decades. He gives a devastatingly nimble performance on this concert disc, both in his singing and playing. Similarly, Skip James launched a whole new career for himself with his performance on "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" and "Illinois Blues." Willie Doss appears to have gotten not too much further than his Newport performances, fine though they were, but the Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi Fred McDowell both reignited their commercial careers with the work heard here. Rounding out the set are contributions from Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, John Lee Hooker, and Lightnin' Hopkins, working musicians for decades up to that time, who were simply playing very big outdoor gigs.

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